ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
K-Doe was one truly eccentric New Orleans character, and let me tell you,
youve got to be really, really way out to be considered way out in New Orleans.
New Orleans is the home of African American idiosyncrasy.
Music Albums by Ernie K-Doe
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Ernie K-Doe: The Emperor of New Orleans R&B
1961. Hardin playground. The swings. Down the street from Emmaroses house. Emmarose and I were good friends, platonic, talked about everything with each othershe told me (was the first girl who ever talked to me about periods) how her menstruation affected her. It was near the end of 9th grade. My life was about to change, drastically, but at the time I knew it and didnt know it. I knew I was going to be sent to a high school I didnt want to attend. All my friends were going to another school and I of course wanted to go with them but couldnt. Worse than that, I didnt have a clue that this was the last of the typical teenage years. At the time, on that warm spring day in the park (if I remember it correctlywhich I probably dont, pretty sure Ive got details wrong or missingnevertheless) I know I was having a ton of fun. My current amnesia notwithstandingforty-some, almost fifty years laterthe import and feeling of that particular afternoon remains fresh. My middle school years at Rivers Frederick Junior High School had been a stupendously enjoyable coming-of-age time. I won my first and only in-school fight. First girl friends, sort of, not really but real enough at that time to seem like the truth. Seventh grade at Frederick High was where Mr. Conrad, my industrial arts teacher, taught me photography after school. Taking pictures has stayed with me all my life, except now I do video as well as still photography. In eighth grade, thanks to Mrs. O. E. Nelson, I got turned on to Langston Hughes and picked up the pen. Later that same year I started seriously listening to music, joined the RCA Victor record club, became a budding record collector, and shortly thereafter totally hooked up with jazz. Those were sweet, sweet years of innocence wonderfully unraveling, sort of like the way cherry blossoms petals fall away preceding the development of dark, sweet fruit. That spring, Ernie K-Doe was a major source of my youths soundtrack. Most people outside New Orleans who know of this man, know only the song Mother-in-Law but for me it was Certain Girl, Hello My Lover and Taint It The Truth. (All the K-Doe tracks in the jukebox are available on Burn! K-Doe! Burn.) Those three in particular are from among a string of regional and local hits recorded by a man whose early rep was that he would always challenge James Brown whenever Mr. Brown came to town. Burn, K-Doe, Burn. Good gracious, my man could dance like James, could handle up on a microphone like James, could sing like Jamesactually could do all that better (according to K-Doe) than James. Id give the edge to James as a dancer, they both could whip a microphone chord and make the mike stand dance and twirl and fall perfectly into the palm of their hand when they did a split and let out a scream as they hit the floor, but as a singer, hey, I know Ive got some home town chauvinism but in his youth K-Doe could croon, K-Doe could scream, K-Doe could whoop, holler and growl like as if he really was the emperor of R&B, an honorific he vociferously claimed in his later years. Back then it was the combination of K-Does raw talent and the refinement of composer/producer Allen Toussaints writing. Toussaint knew the tones K-Doe favored and not only picked appropriate keys and chord changes, but also gave K-Doe the lyrics that sketched out serious relationship issues while leaving room for non-standard English elaboration, like Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta (for which there is no English translation). Almost all of K-Does songs had a subtext of hearty humor. As a teenager I loved those two and three minute social relationship epics. K-Doe was one truly eccentric New Orleans character, and let me tell you, youve got to be really, really way out to be considered way out in New Orleans. New Orleans is the home of African American idiosyncrasy. Hell, my home town is a veritable character factory. Ernest Kador Jr. was born in New Orleans on the fourth floor of Charity Hospital. (Or was it the sixth floor? Charity, New Orleans longstanding popular public hospital, was closed after Katrina and is not going to re-open.) K-Doe died July 5, 2001 they reported his secondline funeral on the evening news. (Yes, I was there for my mans send off.) He had a little night club (actually it was a sizable joint) called Ernie K-Does Mother-in-Law Lounge. He married Antoinette who became the keeper of his kingdom, a kingdom which includes a life-sized wax statue that attends numerous social events. Really, Im not kidding! (Check the photo below.)
Anyway, this particular day I was remembering, our ninth grade class was having a spring picnic. I was on the swings with Sandra. Sandra could have been a track star. She could out-run everybody at Frederick, male, female, two or four legged. Sandra could jet. Sandra and Emmarose were friends and so I was Sandras friend also. Every day, we used to walk the same route after school. I cant remember the first girls name, but she and I were born on the same day, March 24th; she was the first to peel off from our procession because she only lived two and half blocks from the school. Then it was Patricia, and then Sandra, and finally Emmarose. After that, I would circle back to the Galvez bus stop for my long ride down across the canal into the Lower Ninth Ward. (Frederick was in the seventh ward, a good four miles or so from my house.) Sandra and I were swinging. I was sitting and she was standing, her feet planted on either side of my hips, I would kick on the up-stroke and she was push on the down-stroke; the swing was going as high as it could without looping over the bar. We were screaming and laughing. Just kicking it, literally. At that point neither of us had the other on our minds in terms of relationships, it was just a moment of fun. Across the street somebodys front door or window was wide open, the music was pouring out (as was usually the case all over New Orleans). It was Ernie K-Doe. I was laughing then and still to this day every time I hear K-Doe crooning about a Certain Girl, I just have to smile. Those were my last care-free years. By the fall I would be full-out involved in the Civil Rights movement: picketing, sitting-in, voter registration. A different soundtrack for those years. But in the spring of 61, it was New Orleans R&B, especially the Emperor, who didnt go for no faking the funk, no naugahyde (imitation leather, aka pleather) allowed. Ernie burn K-Doe burn was the joyful noise that blessed the springtime of my budding adulthood.Kalamu ya Salaam
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Without knowing it This is the music of my fathers teenage years, but its also music I grew up on without knowing it. When Kalamu told me he was doing Ernie K-Doe songs, the only one that came to mind was “Mother in Law.” He told me the titles of some of the other tunes, including “Certain Girl.” I didnt recognize them at all. Then he sang a little of “Certain Girl.” Even as bad as he sings (and believe me, its pretty bad), I recognized the tune. Ive heard that call-and-response refrain (“Whats her name?” / “Cant tell you!” / “Nooo!”) so many times, I doubt that Ill ever forget it.
I dont know if these songs were popular outside of the Crescent City, but down in N.O., all of these are well known records. I probably couldnt have told you that any of these songs were by Ernie K-Doe, but Ive heard them all. Just as my Baba remembers from back in the day, its the kind of music you wouldnt be surprised to hear coming out of somebodys open window on a hot, sticky summer afternoon. Sounds like New Orleans to me.Mtume ya Salaam
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Ernie K-Doe scored one of the biggest hits (possibly the biggest) in the history of New Orleans R&B with “Mother-in-Law,” a humorous lament that struck a chord with listeners of all stripes on its way to the top of both the pop and R&B charts in 1961. The song proved to be K-Doe’s only major success, despite several more minor hits that were equally infectious, yet he remained one of New Orleans’ most inimitable personalities. Born Ernest Kador, Jr. in New Orleans in 1936, he began singing at age seven in the Baptist church where his father served as minister. During his teen years, Kador performed with local gospel groups like the Golden Chain Jubilee Singers and the Zion Travelers, when he was influenced chiefly by the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. He entered and won talent competitions and became more interested in secular R&B and blues, and at 17, he moved to Chicago with his mother and began performing at local clubs. Thanks to connections he made there, he got the chance to sing with the Flamingos and Moonglows, as well as the Four Blazes, a gig that earned him his first recording session in late 1953 for United.
Kador returned to New Orleans in 1954 and honed his flamboyant stage act at numerous local hangouts (including the famed Dew Drop Inn), both solo and as part of the vocal group the Blue Diamonds. The Blue Diamonds cut a couple of sides for Savoy in 1954, and the following year, Kador (still billed under his real name) recorded his first solo single, “Do Baby Do,” for Specialty. In 1957, he recorded a few more sides for Ember, as both Ernie Kado and Ernie K-Doe.
Finally, in 1959, he caught on with the newly formed Minit label and hooked up with producer/songwriter/pianist/arranger/future legend Allen Toussaint. His first Minit single, “Make You Love Me,” flopped, but the follow-up, “Hello My Lover,” was a substantial regional hit, selling nearly 100,000 copies. K-Doe struck gold with 1961’s “Mother-in-Law,” a Toussaint-penned tune on which K-Doe traded choruses with bass vocalist Benny Spellman. That, coupled with the playful cynicism of the lyrics, made for a rollicking good time in the best New Orleans R&B tradition, and K-Doe was rewarded with a number one record on both the pop and R&B charts. He toured the country and landed a few more follow-up hits“Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta,” “I Cried My Last Tear,” “A Certain Girl” (later covered by the Yardbirds), “Popeye Joe”but none approached the phenomenon of “Mother-in-Law,” and were more popular on the R&B side.
Minit soon went under, and K-Doe followed Toussaint to the Instant label, but two 1964 singles failed to revive K-Doe’s chart fortunes, partly because the early prime of New Orleans R&B was fading as Motown gained prominence. Over the remainder of the ’60s, K-Doe recorded for Peacock and Duke, landing two very minor R&B chart entries in 1967 with “Later for Tomorrow” and “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” on the latter label. However, he had a difficult time adapting his loose, playful style to the R&B trends of the day. He reunited with Toussaint for a brief period in the early ’70s, to no avail, and drifted into a long period of alcoholism.
Fortunately, K-Doe was able to reclaim some of his popularity around New Orleans when he began hosting a radio program in 1982, earning an audience with his wild antics and blatant self-promotion. In 1994, K-Doe opened his own club, Mother-in-Law Lounge, in New Orleans, and frequently performed there in the years to come, occasionally returning to the studio as well. He was inducted into the city’s Music Hall of Fame in 1995 and generally acknowledged for his contributions up until his death from kidney and liver failure on July 5, 2001. Steve Huey, All Music Guide
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posted 9 June 2008